Middle East

Aleppo in second week of blackout aimed at limiting barrel bombs

A man carries a dead body after what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's Karam al-Beik neighborhood April 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Hosam Katan)

BEIRUT: Government-held parts of Aleppo have been hit by a power cut for seven consecutive days, an anti-regime group said Friday, part of a series of measures to isolate regime neighborhoods.

Regime-controlled areas of the city and countryside “have been deprived of electricity for seven days, after the [rebel] Islamic court ordered high-tension power lines be cut off as a way to put pressure on the regime,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hundreds of people, mainly civilians in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, have been killed in a campaign of barrel bombs that was launched in mid-December.

On Friday, barrel bombs – crude devices filled with shrapnel and explosives and rolled out of helicopters – were dropped on the Jisr al-Hajj, Sukkari and Al-Ansari neighborhoods, an activist in the city told The Daily Star. He said the casualty toll was not immediately known.

At least 48 people, including seven children, were killed across Aleppo province Thursday.

Thirty of them were killed in an air raid on the market area of Atareb village, the Observatory said.

Sabotaging power lines was aimed at trying to limit the barrel bomb campaign, the Observatory said.

In the Aleppo countryside, a separate plan to isolate regime-held areas gained support Friday when an alliance of Islamist groups announced the main Kurdish militia had agreed to help them besiege Alawite villages.

The umbrella Ahl al-Sham group – incorporating the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, the Islamic Front and the Mujahedeen Army - announced a truce with the Kurdish Protection Units (YPG) in Aleppo, to bolster their fight against government forces in the area.

A statement published by Ahl al-Sham and signed by the YPG says fighters from the groups will be allowed to travel across territory held by rivals, and that prisoner exchanges will take place.

The purpose of the truce is to “fight the Nusayri regime,” the statement said, using a derogatory term for Alawites – President Bashar Assad’s sect.

The statement appears to show the YPG’s deal to support rebels in their blockade of the predominately Alawite villages of Nubl and Al-Zahraa.

“Before there used to be problems between the YPG and the Islamist groups ... But now the YPG have agreed to allow the rebels to move through areas that they control near the villages of [Nubl and al Zahraa]. So the truce will help reinforce the siege,” an activist with the opposition Aleppo Media Center told The Daily Star.

The document shows a bid by Ahl al-Sham to persuade the YPG to pursue an actively anti-regime stance in Aleppo. The Kurdish militia, which has a strong presence in the rural north of the province near the Turkish border, has previously been more focused on battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) – another major rival of mainstream rebel groups.

Meanwhile, in the southern province of Deraa, fresh fighting broke out a day after 31 rebel and jihadist fighters were killed during the takeover of a strategic hill, Tal al-Jabiyeh, near besieged Nawa town, the Observatory said.

The Observatory had earlier reported an unknown number of soldiers killed or taken prisoner.

Activists in the area said the takeover was significant because the hill had been used as a launching pad to bomb several rebel-held areas nearby.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 26, 2014, on page 12.




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